Oyster Bay Town Councilman Steve Labriola faced backlash Monday after he took to Twitter to voice his opinion on United Airlines’ new gender option, which allows flyers to identify as non-binary when booking tickets. In the tweet, which was posted over the weekend, Labriola referred to the policy as “corporate lunacy.”
The tweet was removed an hour after it was posted, and Labriola has since apologized. “In regard to my tweet, I pointed out that United Airlines was inserting itself into the LGBTQ community to simply drive profits,” he said in a statement to the Oyster Bay Guardian. “Because some viewed that to be insensitive, I immediately deleted the tweet and offered an apology.”
At Tuesday night’s meeting of the Town Council, Labriola expanded on his apology, and offered clarification. “The tweet is an issue I brought onto myself,” he said, adding that he had learned he was wrong, in part, about United Airlines’ intentions. “The LGBTQ community was in fact advocating for this new non-binary ‘X’ designation. I am sorry to have been insensitive and to tweet without all of the facts.”
Some viewed the tweet as anti-transgender. David Kilmnick, the president and CEO of the LGBT Network, which has offices in Woodbury, said that Labriola’s remarks were “disparaging and demeaning,” and compared the councilman to avid Twitter-user President Trump.
“Steven Labriola’s tweet was insensitive, uncalled for, bigoted and offensive to transgender and non-binary individuals everywhere,” Kilmnick said. “We encourage the councilman to focus more on helping and respecting all of the people of Oyster Bay. We will not tolerate this slander and reckless behavior against the people he is supposed to represent.”
Julie Grey Owens, the executive director of Gender Equality New York, an advocacy organization supporting the transgender, non-binary and inter-sex communities, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Being transgender is not a lifestyle or a choice,” Owens said. Then she cited the American medical, psychological and psychiatric associations’ definition of transgender: a disconnect between the gender assigned at birth and the gender role that the brain identifies with. “This is not an act, it’s not a sickness. It is simply who we are.”
The tweets by Labriola were powerful, Owens said, because they encourage destructive behavior. “When aggressive tweets on social media postings attack our community it produces discomfort, fear, hostility and distrust in the general public,” she said. “These created emotions are then directed toward those who do not conform to society’s gender expectations in the form of discrimination and violence.”
Labriola’s tweet also referenced Nike and Gillette, two companies that in recent months have touted advertisements that some consumers found controversial. In September, a Nike ad campaign featured NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who was ostracized from the league after taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. Earlier this year, a Gillette commercial tackled toxic masculinity and unveiled the company’s new slogan: “The Best Men Can Be.”
Labriola’s tweet suggested adding United Airlines to an “avoid list” alongside Nike and Gillette.
United announced the new policy on March 22, becoming the first U.S. airline to offer a non-binary gender option on all its booking channels. Additionally, flyers can select the title “Mx.” when booking, and can now identify as either M (male), F (female), U (undisclosed) or X (unspecified).
“United is determined to lead the industry in LGBT inclusivity,” its chief customer officer, Toby Enqvist, told PR Newswire. “[We are] excited to share with our customers, whether they identify along the binary of male or female or not, that we are taking the steps to exhibit our care for them while also providing additional employee training to make us even more welcoming for all customers and employees.”
Owens said she had spoken to Labriola before the meeting, and appreciated his “heartfelt comments.” However, she said, the town’s leaders and employees desperately need training on how to work with and represent the LGBT community.
Kilmnick applauded United’s efforts to promote inclusivity, and said the non-binary gender option gives people the freedom to be themselves.
Labriola said he considered his error a teachable moment, and planned to meet with Kilmnick.